One of the biggest challenges in attempting to read a book from every country is finding books that have been translated into English. When I made my preliminary list of books for this blog, I was able to find only a couple of novels available in English written by authors from Brunei, and neither book actually seemed to relate to that country. Finally, I learned about Written in Black, by K. H. Lim, which is set in Brunei and centers around a Bruneian-Chinese family.
The book’s protagonist is ten-year-old Jonathan, who is reading Huckleberry Finn when he receives a phone call from his uncle telling him that his grandfather has died. That begins a series of life-changing events for young Jonathan, as his family’s problems cause him to do things he would never have attempted otherwise. We learn that his mother left the family six months ago, ostensibly for health reasons, and Jonathan is desperate to talk to her. Somehow, she always manages to call when he’s not home. His older brother also left home, seemingly the action of a rebellious teenager. Jonathan’s father, then, is left to raise Jonathan, his older sister, and younger brother.
They leave their home for a few days to stay with Jonathan’s uncle in order to perform the customary funeral rites for Jonathan’s grandfather. While talking with his cousin, Jonathan learns that his older brother Michael has been in frequent contact with their mother, which leads to Jonathan’s decision to sneak away and find Michael. What follows is misadventure upon misadventure, or as Jonathan later describes it, “…so far, I’d survived a ride in a coffin, a cursed house, a horde of bats, a pack of wild dogs, and a gang of lunatics.”
While Jonathan is no Huck Finn, and the author of Written in Black is no Mark Twain, this was a fun story about a boy who decided to take matters into his own hands. The plot’s twists and turns kept me interested all the way to the end of the book.
No particular Bruneian dish caught my eye when reading Written in Black. However, there were several descriptions of the lush fruit trees and extensive vegetable garden at Jonathan’s uncle’s house. In particular, there are two leafy mango trees that provide shade for the cage of Pak Tut, a nearly five-foot-long monitor lizard. When I googled Bruneian recipes, I found one for mangoes with sticky rice, which I decided to make in honor of Pak Tut.
The recipe I used was on a website called Asian Recipe, and was very easy to make, something I really appreciated after some of the more difficult recipes I’ve attempted for previous blog posts. I wasn’t able to find coconut cream at any of my grocery stores, so just used coconut milk instead. The rice didn’t turn out to be very sticky, but this was still a delicious and refreshing dessert.
I spent a long time searching online for an organization in Brunei with a mechanism for online donations, but I didn’t have any luck. In particular, I had hoped to donate to the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, “a non-profit, community-based organisation tackling the HIV & AIDS situation in Brunei Darussalam,” but couldn’t figure out an easy way to get money to them. So at this point, I have not made a donation to an organization in Brunei, but if I find a way to do that in the future, I’ll update this page with that information.
NEXT STOP: BULGARIA